Best Back-to-School Sales on Dorm Essentials, Printers, Headphones, and More
Save now on essentials to start the school year right
Whether you or your children are heading back to the classroom or a dorm room, you can find savings on plenty of items for school. This year, parents started their shopping earlier than ever, taking time to hunt for bargains, comparison shop, and spread out their spending.
Consumer Reports is monitoring sales and deals available on everything from computers and headphones to coffee makers and other items for the school year that have done well in our extensive lab testing. We’ll be updating this post through the start of the school year, so check back often to see the latest deals and discounts available.
Back-to-school sales come and go, so you’ll want to be strategic about when you shop. Comparing prices at different retailers can also help you save upfront, especially if you look to more than big-box retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Dollar stores, office supply stores, and wholesalers are also great options. You may even be able to hold off on buying some items now if you won’t need them right away.
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For a brewer with a thermal carafe, consider this deal on the Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew BVMC-PSTX91. Our tests show that thermal carafes aren’t as easy to hold and pour as glass carafes, but this machine still performs decently for handling. It also offers great brew performance and is quite easy to clean and use.
Why it’s a good deal: This model is at a nice discount right now. It was $10 less last week, though, so you may be able to save a little more if you wait to see if the price drops again.
Pod coffee makers are great for busy college students, and the Keurig K-Elite K90 Pod coffee maker is the best Keurig-branded pod brewer in our ratings. Its first-cup brew speed is a tad slow, but this Keurig makes up for it with great temperature and size consistency. It packs plenty of features, too, including programming, auto-shutoff, an iced-coffee brewing mode, a removable reservoir, and a height-adjustable drip tray.
Why it’s a good deal: This is about $5 cheaper than we’ve seen recently.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 ranks among our top-rated noise-canceling earbuds, and this is a hefty discount. Expect solid audio quality and noise cancellation, a long battery life, and handy features, including an ambient sound monitoring mode that lets you keep an ear on your environment.
Why it’s a good deal: This is a great discount for these earbuds, and Walmart is the only place to get them on sale right now. Just note that they’ve sold for as little as $175 during major sales and are likely to be priced better closer to the next holiday shopping season.
Though the second-generation AirPods don’t get high marks for sound in Consumer Reports’ testing, there’s no denying the appeal of these true wireless earphones for many Apple fans, especially at such a big discount.
Why it’s a good deal: A sub-$100 price is always worth a look if you’re in the market for Apple headphones on a budget.
The Soundcore Life Q30 headphones deliver admirable sound quality and noise cancellation. They have an ambient sound monitoring feature and a design that reduces the amount of noise that escapes the earpieces. (No need to share your tunes with someone else!) And at a sub-$100 price, they’re a bargain compared with higher-end noise-canceling models.
Why it’s a good deal: The on-page coupon, which recently jumped from 15 to 20 percent, takes a nice chunk off the full price of these already cost-effective noise-canceling headphones.
Here’s a great option if you’re looking for inexpensive true wireless earbuds. The 1More PistonBuds deliver great sound quality for the price, beating out competitors that cost far more. They have an advertised 3.5-hour battery life—fairly standard for a true wireless model—and come with a charging/carrying case that will recharge the earphones almost five times before the case needs to be plugged in again.
The PistonBuds feature water resistance and touch controls, and they plug in with USB-C. 1More boasts the highest owner satisfaction rating, based on surveys of CR members.
Why it’s a good deal: This is a great low-cost option if your kid needs new earbuds. Make sure to click the on-page coupon for the full savings.
We didn’t test the Ninja AF 101, which is currently on sale. But it has a similar design to the tested Ninja AF100, and we expect their performance to be similar. The electronic controls are among the easiest to see and the programmed settings are among the easiest to use, earning high ratings in our assessments. Cleaning the inside and outside is fairly simple, and the measured capacity is just about average at 3 quarts. Expect some noise, though; testers noted that the fan can be as loud as that of a countertop microwave.
Why it’s a good deal: Walmart has the best discount, beating the next best price by $10.
The 7-cup Secura Original electric kettle is plastic on the outside, stainless steel on the inside, and almost 11 inches high. It’s the only model to snag a top rating in our time-to-cool tests: It keeps 4 cups of boiled water warm for 75 minutes, longer than many other kettles. The warranty lasts two years.
Why it’s a good deal: A few different colors are discounted right now, giving you options to save.
If you print in color frequently enough to justify buying an inkjet printer, consider a model that will save you money in the long run, especially when it’s on sale. The Epson ET-2800 tank printer has a reservoir you can refill with low-cost bottled ink instead of expensive ink cartridges. It uses only about $5 worth of ink a year, according to our estimates, instead of the $70 or more you might have to pay for a cartridge model. Those ongoing savings make the Epson’s purchase price far more palatable and give it a two-year cost of ownership that’s at the top of its class.
The ET-2800’s overall performance isn’t strong enough to earn a CR recommendation. But the text quality and speed are decent and should be fine for home use. The model doesn’t excel at printing photos, charts, or graphics; it does those jobs about as well as any ink-stingy inkjet.
Why it’s a good deal: While you’re only saving about $30 upfront compared to other retailers’ prices, you’ll save more over time compared with the cost of ink for other printers.
Black-and-white laser printers don’t get enough love from everyday shoppers. A machine like the HP LaserJet M209dwe can be far cheaper to operate than almost any inkjet while spewing out very sharp, clear text at impressive speeds. This is a bare-bones machine. It prints only in black and white, it’s pretty inept at producing graphics, and it lacks the ability to copy or scan documents. Oh, and about that six-month deal on cartridges: You’ll need to set up an HP account and maintain the printer’s internet access. (Note that the printer only accepts HP toner cartridges.) If you’re okay with all of that, the HP LaserJet M209dwe can be a good deal. What it does, it does extremely well, while consuming a modest corner of a desk—and an even smaller slice of a household budget.
Why it’s a good deal: A reliable printer for less than $100 is rare but perfect for someone with basic printing needs.
It’s hard to argue with a solid wireless router that costs less than $150, and Google WiFi is still at its Prime Day price, $10 below that mark. It gets high scores across most of our tests and has features like automatic firmware updating and smartphone-based management. There are also two built-in Ethernet ports.
Why it’s a good deal: This was just $140 last week so the price could drop again, but it’s still a decent discount.
Bluetooth and Smart Speakers
The Echo Show 5 is Amazon’s smallest smart screen. Our testers report that the sound is subpar for a music-listening device, but that’s not why you should consider this one. It’s a utility machine that works well on a night table or desk. You get all the Amazon Alexa functionality featured in other Echo devices, plus some added value, thanks to the small screen and camera.
Why it’s a good deal: This has been on clearance at Best Buy for some time but recently dipped by about $8.
If you prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, the Google Nest Audio may be a good choice. Alexa smart speakers have a wider variety of skills and can be great for shopping on Amazon, but some users like Google’s powerful search function and find Google’s interface to be more natural and easier to use.
Google brags about the Nest Audio’s sonic performance, but our testers found that the gains are more modest. The speaker generates enough volume for a midsized room, but the midrange is a little hazy and there’s some sizzle on the high frequencies. While it’s better than the old Google Home, the Nest Audio still can’t compete with the best-sounding smart speakers. It also doesn’t sound quite as good as the similarly priced fourth-generation Amazon Echo.
Why it’s a good deal: This is a nice price if you want to add a Google Assistant smart speaker to your home.
Fitness Trackers and Smartwatches
If you’re a walker who wants a very low-cost, basic fitness tracker, the Amazfit Band 5 should be on your shopping list. The model offers sleep- and stress-tracking capabilities but doesn’t have built-in GPS or the ability to load a music playlist. Our testers found the Amazfit Band 5 quite easy to use, and they report that it counts steps accurately. For heart rate monitoring, however, the Amazfit ranks near the bottom of our ratings, so if you rely on that data for training, you should consider buying a device that delivers better performance.
Why it’s a good deal: This is roughly the same price as we saw during Prime Day.
This latest Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t much different from the previous Series 7 version. The Series 8 features new body temperature sensors for retrospective estimates of ovulation and a high-speed G-force sensor for car crash detection. It also has an EKG function designed to detect unusual heart rhythms. There’s no change in battery size, though the latest version of the Watch operating system adds a new function that can double the life per charge, Apple says, albeit at the expense of some functionality. In our ratings, the Series 8 falls just a bit short of the Ultra, performing less well in the scratch test. But the Series 8 still ranks near the top of our smartwatch ratings.
Why it’s a good deal: This is a hefty discount, especially for a current-generation Apple device.
Thin, light, and powerful, the 2020 MacBook Air is still at its Prime Day price. It’s a great machine, even though there’s a newer MacBook Air for shoppers to consider. The older laptop provides a compelling combination of performance and battery life. Instead of using an Intel chip, as all Apple computers had done since 2006, it’s powered by Apple’s own M1 processor. In our tests, the processor performs with admirable speed, similar to devices powered by Intel Core i7 processors. The 2020 MacBook Air racks up an impressive 10.75 hours of web browsing per charge in CR’s testing.
Why it’s a good deal: This laptop has been on sale for $800 for the past few weeks, and now it’s $50 cheaper, marking it the best price we’ve seen all year.
If you need a highly portable laptop that can easily slip into a bag without weighing you down, you might consider this 12.4-inch notebook from Microsoft, which is now nearly $10 cheaper than it was during Prime Day. It has an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of solid-state storage. Given that “Go” is part of the name, you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s quite light (2.5 pounds) and has a battery that can last 11 hours while handling lightweight tasks like browsing the web.
Why it’s a good deal: This is a nice discount, but it’s about $30 more than the low we saw during last week’s sales.
Bed and Bath
Brushed microfiber isn’t as breathable as cotton, but for those who don’t find synthetic fibers to be a hang-up, this Mellanni sheet set is a top-notch pick. It offers a softer feel than most cotton options and is pretty resistant to wrinkling, and you can expect a great fit even after a year of laundering. You can also expect to have this set in rotation for a while because it does pretty well in our strength test. The one area where these bedsheets miss the mark a bit is in our fit test. Though the packaging claims “deep pockets,” this set is best suited for mattresses with a depth of 10 inches or less.
Why it’s a good deal: These sheets are already a lower-cost option, but the sale and on-page coupon make them an even more appealing choice.
Brooklinen Super-Plush Bath Towels
The Brooklinen Super-Plush bath towels are perfect for anyone who likes a towel as big as a blanket after their shower. These oversized towels are a whopping 53 inches long and 28 inches wide. They were also the most absorbent in our evaluation but took the longest time to dry. There are lots of color options to choose from as well.
Why it’s a good deal: The retailer is offering 10 percent off sitewide right now, giving you a chance to save on these cozy towels.
Luna Weighted Blanket
The cover of the Luna weighted blanket is cotton, and it’s filled with glass beads. It doesn’t come with a duvet cover, but if you’d like to buy one separately, several colors and materials are available. Luna says you can wash the blanket in cold water on the gentle setting and hang it to dry or tumble-dry on low heat. A staffer who has tried the Luna weighted blanket found it to be a solid blanket for the budget-friendly price, but the materials didn’t look and feel as smooth and sleek as the pricier options we tried.
Why it’s a good deal: With the on-page coupon, you’re saving even more than the listed sale price.
Gaiam Performance Yoga Mat
Consumer Reports tested 19 different yoga mats to find out how each one holds up to regular use. Gaiam’s mat aced the drying and grip tests CR put it through but offers somewhat less cushioning. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; a firmer mat can provide more stability for standing poses and can be easier on the wrists.
Why it’s a good deal: This is nearly the same price we saw during the last Prime Day.
Gaiam Foldable Yoga Mat
This mat dries quickly but offers minimal cushioning. It has only a fair amount of grip on the floor and on its dry top surface. Instead of rolling up, it folds into a 10x12-inch rectangle, which could be nice if you like to pack up quickly after your practice.
Why it’s a good deal: This is a modest discount, but the yoga mat is already one of the lowest-priced options we’ve tried, and the extra few dollars in savings make it even more appealing.
Rusk W8less 2000
The Rusk W8less is a great, no-frills option for when you’re on the go. It’s lightweight, gets nice and hot, and, unlike some hair dryers, doesn’t smoke and singe your hair. The W8less has three heat settings, two speed settings, and a cool shot. It comes with one concentrator nozzle. And it has an internal ion generator plus a ceramic and tourmaline-infused grill to fight that frizz.
Why it’s a good deal: This is now less than $10 more than its Prime Day price.
Bio Ionic Long Barrel Curling Iron
The Bio Ionic curling iron might be a great choice for longer hair. The extra-long barrel, 2 inches longer than the ones on standard curling irons, and multiple temperature settings produced bouncy, shiny curls that lasted for days for our testers, but one person thought the barrel was too long for her short hair.
Why it’s a good deal: This is just $8 more than the lowest price we’ve seen in months.